Wine & Food

    12 unusual spirits to buy for Christmas

    16 December 2020

    Hark back to the days of Christmas past and the procurement of festive drinks often meant nothing more exciting than a trip to the supermarket to pick-up a generic blended whisky, some Amontillado sherry and a bit of inexpensive brandy with which to douse the pudding. Plus, perhaps, a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream – that bizarrely popular blend of Irish whiskey, cream and coco…

    But with today’s explosion of interest in small-batch single malts, an ever burgeoning number of boutique gin distillers, the rise of rum and even a move to make potato vodka appear luxurious, there are now more ways than ever in which to truly enter the Christmas spirit. Here are a a dozen, less obvious suggestions:

    Rampur double cask single malt, £60 for 70cl

     If you think the name ‘Rampur’ has more of an Indian ring to it than a Scottish one, you’re right – this single malt hails from the foothills of the Himalayas where the Rampur distillery was established 78 years ago, making it the oldest in India. This special ‘double cask’ bottling was matured in a combination of American bourbon barrels and European sherry casks, resulting in a rich colour and a suitably festive hint of caramel and spice.

    Scilly Spirit Island Gin, from £44.75 for 70cl

    Distilled on the largest of the Isles of Scilly, St Mary’s, Scilly Spirit Island Gin is made to a recipe loosely inspired by the 17th century wreck of a spice trade clipper, the crew of which was rescued by a group of locals who put out from the harbour in a pilot gig. As a result, pepper is among the six main botanicals that give this gin its underlying flavour in both of its available forms – the 44 per cent proof ‘Regular’ or the 57-per cent ‘Atlantic Strength’. Each is supplied in a lovely looking, lighthouse-shaped bottle.

    Edwards 1902 Potato Vodka, from £39 for 70cl

    Lincolnshire’s Elsham World Distillery was established in 2018 to create a luxury vodka using readily available, locally-grown produce – King Edward potatoes. The humble spud was commonly the base ingredient of most good vodka, although many premium brands are now made using grains. Edwards1902, however, is a match for any of them and, despite only having fired-up its copper pot still for the first time 12 months ago, the distillery has already won four major drinks industry awards. The ‘1902’ in the name, incidentally, refers to the coronation year in which local lad John Butler grew the original King Edward potato.

    Tamdhu Batch Strength Five, £79.99 for 70cl

    Even non whisky drinkers might be tempted by this single malt from the celebrated Speyside distillery, simply because of the slender elegance of its deliciously flared bottle. A gorgeous copper colour drawn from maturation in oloroso sherry casks further enhances the aesthetic appeal – but this Tamdhu release isn’t about looks alone. Athough impressively smooth and enjoyable neat, it really comes alive when mixed with the smallest splash of water. Flavour is best described as ‘nutty’.

    Last Drop aged Bourbon, Rum and Cognac, from £3,120

    Last Drop Distillers was founded in 2008 by the late drinks industry doyen Tom Jago (famous, incidentally, for inventing both Bailey’s Irish Cream and Malibu) and business partner James Espie. Their aim was to track-down the world’s oldest and rarest drinkable spirits and make them available to share in (inevitably) small quantities. There are never more than 1,000 bottles of anything available. The latest trio of releases comprises a 1980 Buffalo Trace bourbon (£4,200 for 75cl); a 1976 overproof Jamaica rum (£3,120) and a 1959 Vintage Grande Champagne cognac (POA) – all ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities.

    Storywood Tequila Speyside 14,  £47.45 for 70CL

    This is a new one to us – an authentic Tequila that’s distilled in Jalisco state before being shipped to Dufftown, Scotland where it’s ‘finished off’ for 14 months in barrels formerly used to mature single malt whisky. The result is a light golden tequila with a woody, nutty, toasty taste. Storywood claims it is the first such tequila to have been made available in the UK.

    Royal Salute 52-year-old Time Series, $30,000 for 70cl

    Yes, you read that right – $30,000 is the price of Royal Salute’s decidedly limited edition release. And it’s not even a single malt. The label, famous for its ultra high-end blends, has filled just 106 bottles with a masterful mix of the finest whiskies in its collection. All have been maturing for 52 years, the last 14 of which they spent in a single barrel having been brought together by master blender Sandy Hyslop. Presented in hand-blown and numbered Dartington crystal decanters, the result is said to offer flavours of marmalade, ginger, clove and pear (samples, unsurprisingly, were not available…)

    Tobermory Isle of Mull Gin, £39 for 70cl

    As with most other places in the UK, gin production has taken-off in the Scottish isles. This one is created at the Tobermory whisky distillery, named after the capital of the inner Hebridean Isle of Mull where it’s based. In addition to a great tasting gin (that’s given a lift with a splash from those whisky stills), your money also gets you a delightful colouring book filled with illustrations inspired by the wild and colourful isle.

    Glen Moray Sauternes, £79.95 for 70cl

    The Elgin distillery raided its famous ‘Warehouse One’ – the dunnage store reserved for its most unusual cask whiskies – and emerged with five barrels formerly used for Sauternes wine which, for the past 14 years, have provided homes for a single malt distilled in 2006. Almost indescribably smooth and light in typical Speyside style, the whisky is imbued the honeyed sweetness of arguably the greatest of all Bordeaux pudding wines. There was enough to fill only 1,248 bottles – but, if you miss it, further speciality malts from ‘Warehouse One’ are due to be announced in 2021.

    Cut smoked rum, £22 for 70CL

    This is certainly different – a three-year-old Jamaica rum that’s infused with Arabica coffee beans before being smoked over wood chips and stored in oak barrels. At 40 per cent ABV, it doesn’t have the knock-out punch of CUT’s 70-per-cent ‘overproof’ offering but makes a refreshing long drink when mixed, for example, with ginger beer and ice for an zingy festive pick-me-up.

    Redbreast Irish Whiskey ‘Project Wingman’ Special Edition, £50 for 70cl

    If you’re looking for the ultimate present for a whisky-drinking twitcher, you’ve just found it. These special edition bottles of entry-level 12-year-old by top-selling, single-pot still Irish whiskey specialist Redbreast are delivered in an ornate copper sheath that, once removed, doubles as a weather-resistant bird feeder. On top of that, the Cork-based distiller has pledged to give Euros 15 from the sale of each bottle to ornithological charity BirdlLife International – but hurry. Of the 1,500 made, only 500 remain – and will be offered for sale via the website on December 7 ONLY.